Why Is This New ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Trailer So Fantastic?
If you missed the MTV Movie Awards tonight (and we don’t blame you, since they’re usually just awful), you might have missed a couple of major trailers debuting from Warner Bros., a studio that could use a bit of good buzz right now after Batman v Superman failed to set the world on fire like it was supposed to. One was Suicide Squad (which demanded its own editorial), and the other was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel to the beloved Harry Potter movies that – unlike its predecessors – isn’t already based on a hit novel.
Although Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in many respects a reunion – filmmaker David Yates directed the last four Potter films, J.K. Rowling wrote the story, etc. – it is also a major x-factor in the studio’s line-up. J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay this time around, but just because she’s an exceptional novelist doesn’t necessarily mean she can write great original script. (Stephen King wrote the screenplay for Sleepwalkers. My point is, nobody’s perfect.)
The film also shares none of the same characters as the previous Harry Potter movies, which is probably why this new Fantastic Beasts trailer goes out of its way to namecheck Albus Dumbledore as quickly as possible, just to extend a hand across the aisle to all the wary original fans. But that’s not why this new trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has us so excited. There are three big promises being made here, for a film that could very well live up to the epic franchise from which it sprang, and send it in fascinating new directions.
So here is the trailer…
…and here’s why we think this looks fantastic.
It’s the Next Harry Potter, But It’s Not
Yes, that sounds rather obvious since this is yet another film set in the “Harry Potterverse,” but consider that the previous Harry Potter movies were all a chronological progression of a young boy’s path into adulthood. We met Harry Potter when he was just a boy, and we followed him from his first year at school until his last. What we didn’t see is what happened next, and those important steps into the world outside of school.
So what happens next – for audiences at least – is now Fantastic Beasts, a film that is apparently about a youngish man who has left (or in this case, been kicked out of) Hogwarts and who now seeks to make his own way in the world. The next “Harry Potter” movie, if it followed the path of the original series, would have set Harry on a similar journey at a similar time in his life. So this is a natural extension of the franchise, but in all-new surroundings and with all-new characters. What’s old is new and vice-versa, and that’s a very clever way to appeal to fans of the series while transforming the franchise altogether.
It’s About Wizards in the Muggle World
The fundamental premise of the Harry Potter stories has always been that of a boy, raised in the normal (“Muggle”) world, escaping into a realm of fantasy. But what we see in this new Fantastic Beasts trailer is a fantastic character hiding in the normal world. We see Newt Scamander entering the country under false pretenses. We see an evidently powerful and/or threatening person, played by Colin Farrell, who appears to be discovering the existence of magic. (He also refers to “humans,” which is unusual in the wizarding world, where everyone is either a “wizard” or a “muggle,” implying he’s not a wizard even though – in a different shot – we see him doing something magical.) We later see Newt Scamander’s roommate, apparently discovering the fantastic for the first time as well.
If that truly is the focus of Fantastic Beasts, then it is essentially an inversion of the Harry Potter stories we have seen before now, a concept that’s less about escapism and now more about secrecy, and possibly even paranoia. That’s thrilling ground on which to build a new type of story within the Potterverse.
It’s a New and Relevant Theme: Immigration
We’ve known for a long time that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was going to take place in America, prior to the events of the other Harry Potter stories. But now we see that it is about traveling to America, from a foreign land, while hiding potentially dangerous threats in your luggage. That’s a point of anxiety for a lot of Americans, and apparently it will now be personified by a larger-than-life hero being marketed to children. That’s pretty intriguing, isn’t it?
Now granted, that’s also a HUGE can of worms, and the film may only focus on it as briefly as we saw in the trailer. Heck, all three of the reasons this trailer excites us may wind up being minor elements of the final motion picture (if they wind up being there at all). But what we have here is a preview, that is to say a promise that the studio is making to fans of this series. These are the elements that they evidently want to assure Harry Potter fans are going to be a part of the future of this series, whether that’s wholly true or not, and one of those elements is apparently going to be immigration.
So we see the influx of the new and foreign into our land, but in the context of wonderment instead of – or at the very least in addition to – fear. Sadly, horrifying xenophobia is very much a part of our shared cultural history, and just as sadly, very much still a part of the sociopolitical conversation today. So this is a downright a daring topic on which to base a potential multibillion dollar family fantasy franchise. The promise that Fantastic Beasts will explore our fears of the outside world, and to establish a mindset of acceptance and appreciation for other cultures by equating them to wonderful wizards, is positively staggering, and staggeringly positive… at least in theory.
Will Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them live up to these promises? We’ll have to wait until the film comes out on November 18, 2016 to find out. But we sure as hell hope so. No one wants it to suck. But for now, at least, it’s starting to look a little fantastic.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.